Come to me – Funeral homily for Frank Doyle SJ

Homily delivered by Mark Raper SJ on 22 March 2011 at a mass celebrating the life of Francis George Doyle SJ  (4 October 1931 – 17 March 2011) in Saint Ignatius Oratory, Loyola House of Studies, Manila.

Readings: Romans 8:18-29;  Response Ps 23; Matthew 11:25–30


“Those whom he had known he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Romans 8.

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Matthew 11

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé. May he be on God’s righthand side.

Final commendation and farewell

Final commendation and farewell

The vocation of every human being, most especially of every Christian, is to reproduce the image of the Son of God, to be ‘conformed to the image of his Son’, who is to be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. This is the heart of the prophetic experience of being a religious.  This is the life that Frank Doyle lived as a religious, a life of spirituality, a life of community and a life of mission.

Today we join in spirit with Frank’s family, among them his brother Phil (now himself in hospital following a heart attack on 19 March), his sister Evelyn, his sister in law Joan, and another brother Charles.  A nephew Peter has been in touch with the Jesuit Mission Office in Dublin, and told us of the many nephews, nieces, and of course grand nephews and grand nieces, whom I am sure adored their uncle Frank. Frank himself now joins in heaven another brother Tony who died before him. With all his family we come to farewell a good man who was a friend to all, easy to warm to, reflective and available.  We join thousands across the world who consult his commentaries on the Daily Gospel on the Irish Jesuits Sacred Space web-site, hundreds of whom have posted there their messages and prayers for Frank. We pray together with his brother Jesuits of the Chinese and Irish Provinces, and we join as the community of Jesuits in Manila, especially at Arrupe International Residence, who came to know and love him in the ten short months he spent with us.

We celebrate Frank’s life during Lent.  The English word ‘lent’ comes from ‘lengthen’.  As a boy in Dublin Frank would have celebrated Lent during Spring as the sun grew stronger, the days grew longer, and life quickened and greened again after the harsh dark of winter.  During Lent we allow ourselves to be drawn warmed by, enlivened and enlightened by the sun of Easter, by the Risen Lord who is our Life and our Light, the Son of God.  He is always drawing us so that we may be ‘conformed into the image of his Son’. Although it is Lent, today we light the Easter candle, symbol of the everlasting day into which Frank is now risen with Christ.  All his life the Father has been drawing him, until now when we believe Frank is fully absorbed into the life of God.

Our religious life means a call to be icons of the call of all humanity, which is to be conformed to the image of the Son of God.   It means to live our priorities of spirituality, community and mission.  Frank lived the gospel as a Jesuit religious in this simple yet radical way.

Spirituality.  Frank came here to Manila hardly a year ago to be spiritual father for the community of over 50 scholastics at Arrupe International Residence. Quietly and faithfully he continued to write a book, to write a monthly spiritual commentary for the Malaysian Catholic News, of which he had once been the editor and for which he remained a regular contributor, and many other little side projects that all amounted to spiritual guidance.   His spirituality, ironically, is reflected in the quiet availability of his death. The call was unexpected, but he was ready.

Spirituality is about the pursuit of wisdom, about our inner workings, about being a human being. Nothing is more human, more common or more certain than death. As Woody Allen said, “I know everyone has to die, I just never imagined it would happen to me.” We may not have imagined it happening to Frank either, since he was always so fresh and young at heart.  Yet Frank had certainly been aware of death and often wrote on it.   He wrote a helpful commentary on the readings for Tuesday of the 32nd week in ordinary time which is on the Sacred Space site.

Procession to burial

Procession to burial

“To the unenlightened they appeared to die, their departure was regarded as a disaster, their leaving us like an annihilation”. Even when good and saintly people leave us, it is regarded as a tragedy and a blow not only to us but to them. “What did they do to be taken away like this?”
But… In fact, in death “they are at peace.” … they are in a state of security and total happiness under the protection of and in their intimacy with God. As the Third Eucharistic Prayer reads in speaking of the dead: “There we hope to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are.”

Just recently, too, he had sent to a friend this poem of Henry Scott Holland:

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.

Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky,
and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

No one just steps into a role like spiritual father.  It has to come from a lifelong pursuit of wisdom.  That pursuit is so wonderfully and vividly sketched out in the wisdom books of the bible, where the pupil, Ben Sirach, says of Wisdom:  “From earliest youth I was familiar with her, . . . and until the end I will cultivate her.”

We hear this morning, and I hope we can be comforted by the “Great Hymn of Jubilation” of Matthew’s chapter 11.  This passage speaks to the paradox of Jesus: that the real significance of the great events in our lives – from birth to death – is hidden even from the wise, the learned and the thoughtful.  Everything of importance in our lives, all that we touch conspires finally to an unanswered “why?” Jesus blesses the Father because of that.

Paradoxically, for the most simple disciple, what pervades everything, what even moves through the mystery of our death itself, is not an explanation of death or a justification of suffering. What pervades everything is the call of Christ:  “Come to me.”  Frank heard that invitation.  He has been a beacon for others too who are searching for that word of welcome. Although he strived constantly to give a explanation for the hope that inspired him, he did not simplify or reduce wisdom to banalities.

Community. This gospel passage gives us a sense of personal presence of Jesus to his Father; an intimacy of communion flows from the words of Jesus and is shared with us. From this intimacy of Jesus with his Father comes an invitation to all who are in need and a promise to share their burdens.  The witness of communion, openness to all in need, is a fundamental hunger of our world.  Religious life lived out in community is already a proclamation of the Gospel and reflects the communion of the Trinity.  This may be a lofty description of a normal way of life for Frank, a normal way of being with others as an accepting friend in community.

Fr Harold Naylor has been a contemporary of Frank since their early days in the Society, and is a member of the Wah Yan Kowloon community that Frank had planned to visit next month for a retreat and holiday.  Harold memories of Frank which reveal him as a person of community:

I have been a friend of Frank since he was our choir leader when I was at the Juniorate 1953-6 and then in Philosophy 1956-9, after which he was selected to go to Hong Kong. He had done well at University College Dublin, earning a good B.A. in Classics, Latin and Greek. In 1955 I was with him at Maynooth Seminary for a national sacred music weekend. He also had a deep and beautiful voice for singing and preaching.

As was the custom with Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong, when it came time for Theology, he returned to Dublin. However after Christmas that year, Fr. LaDany requested that a Jesuit be assigned to his China News Analysis to edit the English of that fortnightly and do research on China. For this it was better for Frank to get familiar with written Chinese by studying Theology at Bellarmine College in Baguio. He did that and it influenced me to join him in Baguio in June 1962. Here we were over fifty scholastics destined to work in China. And here Frank was known as a good friend of all, especially the numerous Spaniards. He was appreciated as a man of fun and good humour. To which he added much pastoral work with ESCA, the Catholic Student Movement. He was showing his true self as a pastoral man, bringing the freedom of Christ’s love for all.

Mission. Finally as a religious, Frank was a man of mission.  He was completely, and with great simplicity, available. He was ready, even when asked in his 79th year, to go to the other side of the world.   His more than sixty years living at the edge of China testify to his availability.  Frank was somehow ‘fresh’ in his outlook.  For him mission also meant being open to the new.  While he did what he could in the conventional ways of pastoral service, he was also completely comfortable with the frontiers to which religious and especially Jesuits are called today, ready if sent, to go wherever there is exclusion.

Rite of committal

Rite of committal

His own way of making friends showed that he was not always held captive by established truths.  In each place he made firm friends. He had a missionary personality, ready to go out to the other, to enter their lives and to meet them just as they are.  Fr George Zee reports that whenever he came back to Wah Yan, all sorts of people lined up for the chance to meet him and to share a meal. It could be a group of former students, with the janitor, a rich friend or someone very poor. Frank was happy to be with each one, he listened to them and they counted him as their friend.  Again Harold Naylor:  “He simply wanted to help people in their spiritual life by being friendly and he became a blessing in the lives of many thousands of people.”

More than ever today the light that shines from religious life will not come from institutions and structures, but from people, from identity, credibility and from living a life of the Spirit as consecrated persons, in quality communities, in reaching out to new frontiers.  This was Frank Doyle’s simple witness as a religious, a life of the Spirit, of community, and of mission.

“No one will come to me unless my Father draws him.”  All his life, the Father has drawn Frank into conformity with the image of his Son.  Now he is there at the right hand of the Father, together with his Son.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.   May he be on God’s righthand side.

Photographs of the funeral rites

YouTube video

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